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Garment exporters seek US deal

Manila Standard

Garment exporters seek US deal

By Elaine Ruzul S. Ramos

19 June 2006

A contingent of local garments exporters is in Washington to seek support from United States Congress for a possible sectoral preferential trade deal.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said the trade department had backed the private sector initiative by fitting consultations between Filipino exporters, members of the US Congress and American buyers into the official schedule of Trade Senior Undersecretary Thomas Aquino.

Aquino is in the US for the annual investment mission zeroing on American companies interested in government’s 11 priority sectors under the Board of Investments’ RED (Relocation, Expansion and Diversification) Program.

“This initiative of the garments sector has the blessing of the DTI. I am hoping the presence of Undersecretary Aquino will give the imprimatur for talks to take off,” Favila said.

Local garments exporters are looking at a sectoral liberalized trade pact with the US, the country’s biggest trading partner, in preparation for a comprehensive free trade agreement.

A contingent from the Philippines was in Washington in February last year for exploratory talks on a proposed sector-specific trade agreement between Philippine and US garments industries.

Accompanying Aquino during the visit are special envoy for Trade Ambassador Donald Dee; Serafin Juliano, executive director of the defunct garments and textile exports board; and George Sy, president of the Confederation of Garments Exporters of the Philippines.

The US has maintained the position that it will not forge any sector-specific trade agreement with the Philippines although both countries agreed to go back to the negotiating table to work out a deal.

The US has a so-called template for bilateral and multilateral trade pacts and a sector-specific deal is not part of that template.

“We have to go back to them and see what they can offer in return. Clearly there are policies and requirements that they want included in the deal, although everything is subject to negotiation,” said Dee.

The US has already signed a free trade agreement with Singapore, is finalizing one with Thailand and negotiating with Malaysia for a similar deal.

Dee said the US recognized the problems brought about by a more liberalized global market place to the Filipino exporters.

“They recognized the problem. Somehow, we got the message across that we [garments exporters] are hurting and a lot of our workers are losing their jobs,” he said

The need to forge a preferential trade agreement between the US and local garments manufacturers has become more urgent with the looming quota-free regime to be applied on China’s exports to the US in 2008.

The US is one of the biggest markets for the country’s garments and textile exports.